This week, yet another government shutdown deadline came and went, and this time, Senate Republicans are pointing fingers at one of their own as the cause.
The House had already passed their continuing resolution, and Senate leadership believed they had reached a deal regarding a deal to fund the government and avoid a government shutdown, adding in disaster relief provisions that satisfied the Congressional delegations from Florida and Texas, the states that had been most severely affected by last year’s hurricanes (along with Puerto Rico, whose residents have been fleeing their storm-ravaged island by the hundreds of thousands to Florida).
Senate Republicans expected to be able to vote on their version of the bill Thursday afternoon and send it back to the House for approval, with plenty of time before the midnight deadline. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office has been sending out a steady stream of press releases this week detailing the terms of the deal and his promises to allow a full debate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue, which had been a stumbling block for Senate Democrats during the last government shutdown.
Senate leadership announced earlier this week they had reached a budget deal…and expected to be able to vote on their version of the bill and send it back to the House, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected and blocked the vote.
There were efforts earlier this evening to bring Paul back on board, but they failed. According to a top Senate Republican aide with knowledge of the negotiations who spoke to RedState on condition of anonymity, Paul was offered a budget point of order by Senate Republican leadership, which would have allowed him to discuss the bill and propose stripping any provisions to which he objected.
Instead, what Paul wanted was an actual amendment to the bill itself. This was rejected on the grounds that it would have opened up the bill negotiations to a flood of amendments from Senators of both parties, and drive the bill off the shutdown cliff anyway. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in giving away amendments like Oprah gives away cars.
Essentially what Paul did was invoke a procedure that allowed him to delay the vote for several hours, and force the Senate to miss the midnight deadline. Attempts to persuade Paul failed, and at about 11:00 pm ET, the Senate voted to go into recess until 12:01 am ET Friday morning.
The government officially went into shutdown at midnight and the Senate gaveled back in for their vote. Paul was offered an additional hour to speak regarding his objections to the bill, and he declined, allowing the vote to proceed.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, the Senate began a procedural vote on the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government and the budget agreement. It cleared the required sixty-vote threshold with bipartisan support, 73 – 26 (There are only 99 votes because Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is still recovering from cancer treatments in Arizona). The actual bill itself only needed a majority vote to pass, and it did by 71-28. Paul voted no on both measures.
Senate Republicans are understandably annoyed with Paul, who is viewed as single-handedly causing this particular shutdown. Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who had been the architect of past government shutdowns, was not bucking leadership on this bill. As RedState reported earlier, Cruz had released a statement on Thursday explaining that while he had serious misgivings about how the bill “unnecessarily balloons the deficit” he would nonetheless “reluctantly vote” for it.
Part of the frustration with Paul is the view that he is right about the issue of spending but wrong in his timing and approach to the problem, according to a top Senate Republican aide who spoke to RedState on condition on anonymity.
The annoyance with Paul was exacerbated by what was viewed as grandstanding: our source pointed out that Paul was offered the budget point of order, which would have given him the time and opportunity to voice his objections without derailing the bill, but he refused. Our source also noted that Paul took time away from the Senate floor to do several cable news hits (we are aware of him appearing on at least Fox News Channel and CNN), instead of continuing to study the bill or discuss his objections with his fellow Senators.
The fact Paul was offered additional time to speak after the shutdown began at midnight but declined — no longer during prime time television hours — can only add to the frustration.
Worse, said our source, was their view that Paul hadn’t been as much engaged in the spending fight as he was engaged in publicity opportunities for himself.
“It’s a pointless exercise,” said our source. “Yes, he is discussing an important issue and making a lot of key points but he hasn’t done anything to actually work on reducing spending.”
Our source also pointed out past votes by Paul that seemed in conflict with his current stand, including voting against the last Obamacare repeal bill, which saved money by repealing the mandates, and another repeal bill that had significant Medicaid reforms — even though part of his remarks on Thursday focused on entitlement reform.
The Democrats bore a lot of the blame for the last shutdown in January, especially Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Now, Republicans are undoubtedly going to take the blame for this one, because Paul delayed — but did not actually stop — the vote for a few hours. The bill is headed back to the House without Paul being able to bring any changes to it.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) took to the floor himself on Thursday to criticize Paul’s efforts as “wasting everybody’s time and inconveniencing the staff” to shut down the government “for no real reason.”
“I agree with many of his concerns about deficits and debt,” said Cornyn, “but we are in an emergency situation,” with the midnight shutdown deadline.
"The senator from Kentucky, by objecting to the unanimous consent request, will effectively shut down the federal government for no real reason"
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) February 9, 2018
Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reported on additional comments from Senate Republicans, who he described as “fuming” at Paul’s actions causing the shutdown.
“He wanted attention and he got attention,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). “That’s it.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was quoted as saying that he had “a rough time” seeing the meaning in Paul’s actions. “I wonder about the endgame of people who keep us here till 1 o’clock and achieve nothing,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).
Paul was not without his defenders: Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) agreed with his stance on the importance of addressing the deficit.
“I actually thought tonight was one of our better nights. Democracy is messy,” said Kennedy . “This was some of the best debate I’ve heard.”
To be fair, Rand Paul is absolutely right that there are major problems with the way Congress manages its budget. Any fiscal conservative watching his remarks from the Senate floor Thursday afternoon undoubtedly found much to cheer. But when the end result is that the bill passed anyway, and we have the annoyance and expense of another government shutdown, no matter how short, and now the Republicans will take the blame, the irritation of Paul’s Senate colleagues is understandable.
“This is a remarkably stupid moment,” CNN’s Phil Mattingly said another Senate Republican aide had told him. Yes, a Congress that throws the government into shutdown every few weeks because they cannot perform the most basic budget management functions is indeed “remarkably stupid.”
UPDATE: The House voted to approve the Senate bill around 5:30 am ET, effectively ending the government shutdown.
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This post has been updated with additional information about this week’s votes and comments from Republicans.